Sunday, April 7, 2013

"A judge becomes hourable by his judgments and not by using red beacon at the top of his official car."

A 20-year-old Allahabad high court judgment left the Supreme Court bench of Justices G S Singhvi and Kurian Joseph red- faced before it ordered the Centre and the states to take steps to limit list of dignitaries entitled to use red beacon with siren on official cars.

The HC Judgment, which was co-authored by Justice Markandey Katju, had gone to great lengths in justifying how high court Judges as constitutional post-holders were dignitaries, who could not be removed even by the appointing authority and that their official cars should not be stopped by traffic police.

The April 5, 1993 order of the HC, delivered by Justices D Chauhan and M Katju, had expressed horror at the temerity shown by two traffic constables in stopping the official cars of two other judges and contemptuously inquiring whether they were entitled to use red beacon at the top of their official vehicles.

The HC bench of Justices Chauhan and Katju graciously did not initiate contempt proceedings against the constables. But it issued a caution and an omnibus dictum to the UP government to inform all authorities not to impede or stop a Judge's car.

"It needs to be made clear that vehicles of any Honourable Judge cannot be detained or stopped except for a procession of a dead body passing through or electronic traffic signal otherwise on some other expediency of such nature the route may be diverted, if possible by advance intimation through the Registrar of the Court and in case of sudden emergent circumstance, by informing the driver of the Honourable Judge without exhibiting disrespectful conduct. While issuing notice of caution, we order accordingly," the HC had said.

It had said stopping of a Judge's car itself was an contemptuous act and even if some inquiry was to be made about the use of the car or about the driver, it must be "made through proper channel by approaching the Registrar of the High Court instead of having resort to detaining Honourable Judges, who were going to attend the court, whereby not only causing inconvenience, but lowering their dignity in public esteem".

While ruling in favour of the High Court Judges' entitlement of a red beacon despite nothing to that effect written in the Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989, Justices Chauhan and Katju had said, "The Honourable Judges of the High Court are entitled to the use of red light at the top of their vehicles (being constitutional appointees and functionaries enjoying the position of high dignitaries and distinction) even though there is no specification under the third clause to the proviso to Rule 108 of the 1989 Rules."

Asking government to fix signs on official car of a Judge prominently displaying "Judge Allahabad High Court" in both English and Hindi, the HC had issued a general mandamus to the state, its authorities and officers "not to create any impediment in the user of red light at the top of the vehicle by the Honourable Judges of the High Court and also for not causing any inconvenience an obstruction of any nature in any manner except as authorized under this order. All authorities and persons are mandated for complying with the order punctually."

The Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Singhi had one sarcastic line to add: "A judge becomes hourable by his judgments and not by using red beacon at the top of his official car." The bench also drew attention of senior advocate Harish Salve and Rakesh Dwivedi, who appeared for UP, to the title of the 20-year-old High Court case "Red Light on the cars of the Honourable Judges vs. State of UP."

Dwivedi had mentioned about this judgment saying unless it was stayed the state government would be in contempt. SC asked the states to ignore the order and proceed with possible amendments to the 1989 rules to limit red beacon use only to top constitutional authorities.

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